A couple of weekends ago, my youngest two children and I went to visit my husband. On that Saturday morning, I woke up at 3:30 am in hopes of having everything ready for our trip. I packed not one, but TWO pair of shoes for the diva, bathing suits for the pool at the hotel (kids need to have fun), meds, snacks, electronics, IDs, cash, etc. I got myself ready and, coffee in hand, headed out with the sleepy-eyed kids. We made the 5+ hour drive.
Once we arrived, we sat in the hospitality center (a dingy, portable room, posing as a welcome center/waiting room). It was full of people waiting to see their loved ones. We were number 63 so we would be waiting for at least another hour to be let in. Thankfully, the kids were able to entertain themselves with my phone (they have lockers to secure personal items before entering the facility). When our number was finally called, I gathered our items; money for the machines, IDs, pictures to show my husband, then locked up my phone and car keys. We walked to the next building and got processed; IDs checked, coats patted, walk through a metal detector, my picture is taken (face-recognition), and then I was told I could only bring 15 pictures with me. Sigh... I had about 35, so I had to choose carefully! I figured I'd bring 15 more the next day, as we would be visiting again. I left with 15 pictures and we walked to yet another building where the visiting room is.
I had to sign a giant visitor's book (it kinda resembles a guestbook) and while I was doing that, the two officers at the desk called me over to tell me that two pictures couldn't go in. I tried to imagine what in the world could be so inappropriate about these pictures. They were mostly of our last camping trip; could the kids' shorts be too revealing? Was there a bathing suit flick? Then, the C.O. showed me the pictures of my daughter and my niece with my father. I looked closely and asked, "so what's wrong with these pictures?" He said, "Mam, these people are showing gang signs." I chuckled... "I'm sorry, what?" When I looked at the pictures again I noticed that the girls were making peace signs and smiling. "Oh, my God! Are you serious? Gang signs? These girls are 4 years old!" I protested. The officer said, "Mam, I know, but those are the rules!" I understand... but why? He tried to explain, to the best of his knowledge that people send pictures making gang signs with their hands to convey messages. So I asked him, "how do you differentiate between a gang sign and not? Do I need to start taking photographs of my children with their arms by their sides so not to give the wrong impression?" He said, "no... children are children." I get it, Mr. Officer, but do you? A few people used pictures in the wrong way and now I have to watch what I do with my hands when someone says "cheese!"
The time before that visit I was told that I could only wear one necklace with ONE pendant of a religious nature. I was wearing an infinity sign. I was told to take it off. "But why?" I said, "what if I told you that this infinity sign symbolizes the infinite love God has for me or vise versa?" I can sit and argue that just about any pendant can have religious significance, but it wouldn't matter. The officers who enforce the rules do not understand them. They probably wouldn't even follow them if they had to, because they don't make sense. What they do know is that new rules are listed on the website and can tell visitors that there are new directives, as if each person consults the rules for any changes every single time they visit an inmate. I find that each facility enforces those rules as they interpret them. It can be infuriating navigating this system. How easy would it be for those in charge if no one visited their loved ones, or checked up on them? Unfortunately for them, our loved ones are worth way more than a little aggravation. The senseless rules will not deter us.
As I prepare to work with the families in our LINKS Program, I am thankful for the continued first-hand education on this system, it makes me more qualified to deal with the subject each day.